The Old Testament prophets looked forward to a time of prosperity for the church and the kingdom of God on earth. Today, many evangelicals believe in a future prosperity of the kingdom of God but place that time beyond the Second Coming in a thousand year millennium in which Christ reigns bodily from an earthly throne or either place the time of prosperity for the kingdom of God only in eternity after the Judgment. The former view is most popular today with a few holding to the latter view. Many today have almost given up on the church and its mission and await the rescue of the church through the rapture that may come at any moment. The concept of a future prosperity of the church in this age before the Second Coming of Christ is only held by a few today. That has not always been the case. It was certainly not the case with the pioneer missionaries of our modern missionary movement.
William Carey, who is called the father of modern day missions, preached a sermon on May 31, 1792 before a local Baptist association in Nottingham, England. His text was Isaiah 54:2-4 (KJV) – “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not….” The sermon Carey preached that day has been called the burning bush of missionary revelation. He summarized this text in these words: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” In June of 1793, Carey sailed for India where he was to remain for the next forty years. Through the first five and a half years, Carey and his colleagues saw not a single Indian convert. Yet, Carey wrote these words: “When I left England, my hope of India’s conversion was very strong; but amongst so many obstacles, it would die, unless upheld by God. Well, I have God, and His Word is true. Though the superstitions of the heathen were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of the Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all and persecuted by all, yet my faith, fixed on that sure Word, would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause will triumph.” (Puritan Hope, p. 140) Again, he wrote, “I would not abandon the Mission for all the fellowships and finest spheres in England….The work, to which God has set His hands, will infallibly prosper. Christ has begun to besiege this ancient and strong fortress, and will assuredly carry it.” (ibid)
After their first convert in 1800, Carey and his colleagues wrote, “He was only one, but a continent was coming behind him. The divine grace which changed one Indian’s heart, could obviously change a hundred thousand.” (Puritan Hope, p. 141) Carey’s view of the Great Commission and the Kingdom of Christ in this age is reflected in his optimism in missions. He wrote, “We only want men and money to fill this country with the knowledge of Christ. We are neither working at uncertainty nor afraid for the result…He must reign until Satan has not an inch of territory!” (The Greatest Century of Missions, p. 16) Rather than believing that the church would be raptured out of the way to turn the world over to Satan as many evangelicals seem to believe to day, Carey believed that the gospel could be victorious and completely defeat Satan and his kingdom.
This same kind of optimism was reflected by Andrew Fuller who was a friend and colleague of Carey serving on the same mission board that sent Carey to India. Spurgeon called Fuller the greatest theologian of his century. In Fuller’s exposition of Revelation, he points out that the millennium spoken of in chapter 20 was a spiritual reign of Christ in which the gospel was victorious in the world. He believed that the preaching of the gospel would eventually triumph and that the kingdom of Satan would become the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in this age. In speaking of the millennium he writes, “...consider it as a time in which the gospel will be spread over the whole earth, and cordially embraced both by Jews and Gentiles; when those prophecies will be fulfilled which speak of the cessation of wars – of the stone cut out without hands becoming a great mountain and filling the whole earth – of the little leaven leavening the whole lump – of the knowledge of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea – of the first dominion coming to Zion – and of the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole heaven, being given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” (The Works of Andrew Fuller, p. 476) He saw the beginning of a missionary movement that he believed could sweep the whole earth and bring in an era when the gospel and the kingdom of God would predominate in the world. His view was not a minority opinion but rather was the majority view among evangelicals in his day. From such a view came the modern missionary movement. This idea of the church having to escape the world in a rapture and giving the world over to Satan in this age was very foreign to men like Fuller and Carey and other evangelicals of their age.
We can go back a little further to the days of the First Great Awakening in America in the 1740’s to the life of David Brainerd who was a missionary to the American Indians. Brainerd died when he was only twenty nine years old, but was greatly used of the Lord in his short life. He preached the gospel to several Indian tribes through an interpreter and witnessed a significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit among them. Jonathan Edwards published Brainerd’s Diary and wrote a biography of his life. This publication of Edwards has influenced many to give their lives to missions. David Brainerd’s view of the church and its mission in the world was similar to William Carey. They both saw the gospel as a powerful force able to win whole nations to Christ and to spread the Kingdom of God all over the earth. It is interesting to note that in his last days his mind was much upon the church and the future of the gospel in the world. Edwards wrote about the beginning of his last days with him at Northampton, Massachusetts: “When Brainerd came hither, he had so much strength as to be able, from day to day, to ride out two or three miles, and sometimes to pray in the family; but from this time he gradually decayed, becoming weaker and weaker. As long as he lived, he spoke much of the future prosperity of Zion which is so often foretold and promised in the Scriptures….He told me, when near his end, that ‘he never, in all his life, had his mind so led forth in desires and earnest prayers for the flourishing of Christ’s kingdom on earth, as since he was brought so exceeding low at Boston.’” (p. 131 Life and Diary of David Brainerd) Brainerd wrote, “O that God might be glorified in the whole earth! ‘Lord let thy kingdom come.’ I longed for a spirit of preaching to descend and rest on ministers, that they might address the consciences of men with closeness and power. I saw that God had the residue of the Spirit, and my soul longed that it should be ‘poured from on high.’’ (Ibid, p. 134.)
Edwards commenting on the last two weeks of Brainerd’s life records, “He also was much engaged in expressing his longings that the Church of Christ on earth might flourish, and Christ’s kingdom here be advanced, notwithstanding he was about to leave the earth, and should not with his eyes behold the desirable event, nor be instrumental in promoting it. He said to me, one morning, as I came into his room, ‘My thoughts have been employed on the old dear theme, the prosperity of God’s church on earth. As I waked out of sleep, I was led to cry for the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, for which the Redeemer did and suffered so much. It is that especially which makes me long for it.’ He expressed much hope that a glorious advancement of Christ’s kingdom was near at hand….He expressed on his death-bed a full persuasion that he should in heaven see the prosperity of the church on earth, and should rejoice with Christ therein; and the consideration of it seemed to be highly pleasing and satisfying to his mind.” (Ibid, p. 136-137) Brainerd as he was about to die had his thoughts not so much on going to heaven but on the church on earth. He longed to see the spread of the gospel all over the world and the advancement of the kingdom of God everywhere and he believed that he would yet see it though from heaven after he died. He wrote, “O, when I go there, how will God’s dear church on earth be upon my mind!” (Ibid, p. 136)
Edwards recorded what happened just a few days before Brainerd died, “On the evening of Tuesday Sept. 29, as he lay on his bed, he seemed to be in an extraordinary frame; his mind greatly engaged in sweet meditations concerning the prosperity of Zion. There being present here, at that time, two young gentlemen of his acquaintance, who were candidates for the ministry, he desired us all to unite in singing a psalm on that subject, even Zion’s prosperity. And on his desire we sung a part of the 102nd psalm.” (Ibid, p. 137-138) This psalm points to the prosperity of Zion and the advancement of God’s kingdom in all the earth. Verses 12 – 17 express this theme saying, “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity. The nations will fear the name of the Lord, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” The Psalmist seems to be looking ahead to a time of Zion’s prosperity in which her influence will have reached to all nations. Brainerd applied this to the church as did Edwards as well. They saw the future prosperity of the church coming and they rejoiced to see it through the eyes of faith. Verses 18-20 seem to point into the future and to a generation that would come that would see the prosperity of Zion: “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death. So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.” Both Brainerd and Edwards looked forward to a latter day glory in which the church would influence all nations and the peoples of the world would worship the true God. They saw this coming in this age. Their outlook was far different than the modern day evangelical idea of the church going down in defeat and escaping this age through the rapture leaving the world to the devil and his followers. According to this modern view, the church will not see glory in this age but will go down in failure. What a contrast to the prophecy of the 102nd Psalm which seems to point to the future prosperity of the church in this age!
When we look at the views of men like Edwards, Brainerd, Carey, and Fuller, we see such a contrast to present day evangelical views of the church and its mission in the world. Popular evangelical teaching has the church as the church ending its mission in this age at the rapture. From that point on, emphasis is shifted to the nation of Israel. A sharp dichotomy is made between Israel and the church. The men above who had such high views of the church would have a problem with some of today’s evangelical teaching on the church and its role in the world. To them, the Old Testament looked forward to a glorious future for the church in this age. They did not rule out future blessing for the Jews and Israel but only as a part of the overall blessing for the church.
Now, we want to spend the remainder of this article in looking at Micah 7:11-12 which says, “The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.” In this prophecy, what was Micah referring to. Was he looking forward only to national Israel and what would happen to her? It is true that the Jews did go back to Israel after the exile and they did rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and they did rebuild the temple. Certainly to the Jews of that day this prophecy was at least partially fulfilled. However, did not the prophet look forward to an even greater fulfillment of this prophecy? It is very probable that he did. It seems to me that this prophecy is very similar to Amos 9:11-12 which says, “’In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,’ declares the Lord, who will do these things.” The New Testament applies these verses to the coming of Christ and spread of the gospel among the Gentiles (Acts 15:15-18). In other words it refers them to the church and its mission in the world. The Micah 7 passage is also very much like Isaiah 54:2-3 which says, “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” William Carey applied this verse to the church and launched the modern missionary movement based on these verses. Was he mistaken? Is the modern missionary movement through which the church has greatly advanced in the world based on an error in scripture interpretation? Some modern evangelical teaching would apply those verses to the nation of Israel not the church. Who is right?
John Gill in commenting on Micah 7:11-12 makes this comment: “It may respect the extent of the church and kingdom of Christ in the latter day, enlarged by the numerous conversions of Jews and Gentiles in all parts of the world. The Jews shall be gathered from all places where they are, and join themselves to the church of Christ; and these several places, particularly Assyria, Egypt and the islands of the sea from whence they shall be brought, are mentioned in other prophecies (Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 10:9-11); though this may respect, not barely the conversion and gathering of them to Christ and his church, but of the Gentiles also in those several countries….” (John Gill’s Commentary on Micah) In his interpretation of these verses, Gill looks forward to a future day when the kingdom of God will greatly advance in the world. There will be a great increase in the church as people from all over the earth come into it including both Jews and Gentiles.
The walls of Zion will be built and its boundaries extended. In that coming day people will come to Zion from Assyria and the cities of Egypt. A similar passage is found in Isaiah 19:23-25 which says, “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’” Could not these verses simply indicate that in the future people from the Gentile nations will come to know Christ and come into His church along with the Jews? Verse 25 seems to put these Gentile peoples on the same level as Israel and all being blessed by the Lord. Micah goes on to say that people will come to Zion “even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.” Here, again, Micah points to that future time when the church will expand into the whole world from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. These are universal words pointing to a worldwide spread of the gospel. Keil and Delitzsch comment on these words saying, “’from one sea and one mountain to another sea and mountain,’ i. e. from every land situated between seas and mountains, of all lands is not to be understood as denoting simply passing visits to Canaan or Zion, but as coming to connect themselves with the people of God, to be received into fellowship with them. There is a parallel to this promise contained in Isaiah 19:18-25, that in the Messianic times Egypt and Asshur (Assyria) will come to Jehovah.” (Commentary on Micah, p. 511) Micah is then pointing to a future time when people from all over the world will come into Zion and become a part of the people of God. Micah seems to be reiterating what he had already said in Micah 4:1-2 – “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
What is Micah talking about here? What time in the future is he referring to? Is he talking only about Israel here? There are some who would apply all of these passages to the nation of Israel. Yet, is that really the true meaning of the prophecy of Micah? Blessing will certainly come to Israel and the Jewish people in the future. Yet, their blessing will not be apart from the blessing that will come to the whole church of which they will become a part of. There is only one people of God as Paul pointed out in Romans 11. There is only one olive tree. At one time the people of God were the Jews and then the Gentiles came in and in the future the Jews will come in again to join the Gentiles. Still, there is only one people of God, only one Zion of which both Gentile and Jewish believers belong. Hebrews 12:22-23 says, “But you have come to Mount Zion to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” Is this not talking about the church of Jesus Christ? There is no mention of two peoples of God here, one being the church and the other being Israel. Here there is only one people of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles and all called Mount Zion.
Modern popular evangelical teaching such as seen in the Left Behind Series brings the church to the end at the rapture as far as this age is concerned. The church is swept out of the way and Satan has his day on earth. The dispensational theology behind this kind of teaching sees the church or at least the confessing church as a failure at the end of the so called “church age”. The church ends in apostasy and only a small remnant will be raptured if we are to take dispensational teaching seriously. There is no glory of Zion as David Brainerd believed would come one day. The church ends in apostasy not in glory in this age.
Yet, it seems to me that Micah was pointing to a much brighter day for the church in the future when her boundaries will be extended and people from all over the world will come in and have fellowship in the people of God, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly this has already been fulfilled to a lesser extent as the gospel has gone out into all the world but it seems that a greater fulfillment is yet to come when people from sea to sea and mountain to mountain will flock to the church. Isaiah looked forward to this day in chapter 60 as he described the glory of Zion. Verses1-3 put it this way, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Even though the world is covered in darkness, a light will shine. That light will be the light of Zion or the church and nations will come to that light and kingdoms to that brightness. The glory of Zion is yet to be. The church will not end in apostasy but rather in glory. That is what we must believe and that is what we must act on as we carry the gospel to the whole world, to every nation and people.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise.
Edwards, Jonathan. Life and Diary of David Brainerd, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Grand Rapids, 1971.
Fuller, Andrew. The Works of Andrew Fuller, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburg, 2007. (Originally published 1841)
Gill, John. Commentary on Amos, www.biblestudytools.com .
Hammond, Peter. The Greatest Century of Missions, Christian Liberty Books, Cape Town, South Africa, 2002.
Kiel, C. F. and Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, Volume 10, Minor Prophets, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, no date given.
Murray, Iain. The Puritan Hope, The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971.